Monday, November 16, 2009

As I suspected.

I went to bed Friday the 13th, having set my alarm to wake me up at 4am. Apparently the anticipation was just too much, as my eyes snapped open at precisely 3:45. Breakfast, coffee, checking the weather and loading the truck got me on the road a hair before 5. From there, I had a 180 mile ride along 580, 5, 120 and 108 to my destination. Arriving at my spot about 8:30 in the morning, I found the ambient air temperature about 25 degrees (Fahrenheit. Celsius be damned!), the sun shining and a bit of snow on the ground. In other words, the morning looked beautiful, but downright cold.

I got my waders on, with long pants and wool thermals beneath, more thermals up top, wool shirt and a fleece pullover, and still I froze. Never mind my hands which went numb near-instantly once I started to hike down to the river. I still haven't found an acceptable pair of gloves for cold weather fishing, but I'm always open to suggestions. At about that time, on any trip, I always ask myself "Why am I doing this again?"

Upon reaching my first fishing spot, the water was of sufficient flow for fishing, the birds were starting to chirp, the air was crisp and clear, and there wasn't another person for probably 20 miles. Question answered, I tied on an Orvis Troutmaster in #14 and made my first cast. For the next 3 or 4 hours I made countless more casts, all unproductive. The water, crystal clear, looked devoid of fish. But that sentiment is a beginner's first mistake. Just because you can't see the fish doesn't mean that 1) they aren't there, and 2) that they aren't hip to your presence. At some point I changed over from the Orvis fly to something someone tied for me 7 or 8 years ago. It's a brown mayfly-looking nymph pattern with a woven body, and had been useful up here during late season trips. Still, no dice. Plus, I lost that fly on a nasty snag.

At that point, somewhere around noon, I found a flat, comfortable rock, and sat down for a snack and some regrouping. I couldn't see a single bug hatching or coming off the water, despite full sunlight in spots. In a fit of head-scratching and snack-chewing, I figured I had two choices. Tie on a wooly bugger and try fishing streamers, or tie on a dry and see if I could entice a fish. With the water temperature at 36F, either prospect looked dim. In that cold water, the fish don't want to do much. Unless the fly comes right to them and lands nearly in their mouth, they often won't bother. Stubborn as I am, I decided on the dry - a #14 yellow humpy (something from a store - the ones I tie look like the deformed offspring of a caddis and a bumblebee, and I'm in need of more bench time to get them right.)

Cast #1 with the dry. Up against a rock and into a seam between slow water and slack water, I was greeted with a splash and a miss. "Well I'll be damned", I thought to myself. It worked. Of course a dozen more casts, and nothing. Maybe it was presentation, maybe the fish had spent its daily energy allotment or maybe the stars were aligned against me. I decided to move upstream to another spot, and then luck (stupid luck, I might add) found me.

You see, I had neglected to smear my dry fly with floatant (in this case, some goopy silicone-like stuff that keeps the thing from waterlogging and sinking). So now I was working with a fly that would stay on the surface for a split second and then sink. It was sort of like fishing a wet fly/emerger pattern and since nothing else was working, I decided to roll with it. In a moment of inattention to fishing, I let my mind drift to the scenery, the birds, the rocks, the snow and so on. Realizing the drift was over, I went to retrieve my line and there was weight on the end of it. Dead, but moving, weight. I managed to wrestle a nice trout to the surface, at which point it came out of its own cold-induced stupor and began to put up the fight of its life. My 4 wt. Sage XP doubled over from setting the hook, this fish was on. A minute later she was in my net and on the bank. I sized her up at 16 inches or so and decided she was going on the grill. Into the bag in my vest, and back to the same spot, just to see if this was a fluke or if more fish were hanging about.

Two casts later, the same thing. Only this time I was paying attention to my drift. Letting the fly and line go slack, I put the fly in roughly the same spot and on the retrieve, the same thing - dead weight. This dead weight decided to immediately put up a heck of a tussle. The hook set, I horsed this fish in. Probably a little too eager, but the hook, tippet and leader all held and I had another nice fish in my net a minute later - this one about 14". In the bag, and being a glutton for more punishment, I decided to try the spot One More Time. Sure enough a half dozen casts later, I had one more on the line. I brought this one to hand, and since my wife doesn't care to pick bones out of her dinner, I had no need for a third fish. This one was nice, about 12" as I made it. I popped the hook out of its mouth and sent it back home to (hopefully) be fruitful and multiply.

I continued to fish upstream towards the truck, trying a spot that is usually very productive in the summer months. I guess either no one was home, or the tactics I chose were only good in one spot. Either way, it did not really matter. Six hours of numb fingers, frozen feet and standing in near-freezing water were taking its toll. By 2pm, I decided to pack up and made the long drive home, with a big SEG on my face and some fresh fish in the cooler. Oh, and for the record, a hatch did eventually start late in the day. Some sort of mayfly hatch came up - pretty sparse, just a few bugs here and there. It was likely enough to get the fish interested in anything remotely resembling a mayfly, however, and that managed to pay off.

I'm always amazed how getting into a bite can quickly make me forget all my aches, pains, cold feet, numb fingers and rumbling belly. Even without catching fish, the trips are always worth it. The solitude alone makes the drive and the time on the river worthwhile. The fish really become a bonus. Of course I wore myself out, between the early morning, the long drive, and the cold weather. And I still had Sunday to go bird hunting with dad. That would prove to be a shorter, but no less fulfilling, day, despite being wiped out from Saturday.

The final tally on the fish - the bigger one measured out to 15.75" and the smaller to a touch over 14". A nice reward for a day of fishing!

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